Clone-link food wins backing for sale

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MEAT and milk from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs should be allowed to go on sale in the UK, food safety experts have concluded.

Official food regulator The Food Standards Agency is meeting on Wednesday next week to decide whether consumers should be allowed to buy products from cloned animals or their offspring.

Ahead of the meeting, the agency has published its opinion on the controversial issue following consultation with bodies including the National Farmers’ Union and animal welfare organisations.

The FSA has decided there are no food safety grounds for regulating foods from the descendants of cloned cattle and pigs. But products directly derived from cloned cattle or pigs cannot be sold without a licence.

The decision follows a row last year when it emerged that meat from the offspring of a cloned cow had been sold in butchers’ shops without a “novel food” licence, which broke FSA rules as they then stood.

In December, as it launched a consultation on the issue, the FSA said it thought there were no food safety grounds for regulating goods from the naturally-born offspring of cloned cattle and pigs and that, for food safety purposes, mandatory labelling of meat and milk obtained from the offspring of cloned cattle and pigs would be “unnecessary and disproportionate, providing no significant food safety benefit for consumers”.

Opposition to changes in the regulations, which bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe, has come from some British farmers and organisations such as the RSPCA and Which?

Zoe Cawston, a Suffolk beef and dairy farmer, told the FSA earlier this year that allowing the sale of products from the offspring of cloned animals represented a “lowering of standards”.

But the National Farmers’ Union, which represents more than 55,000 commercial farmers in England and Wales said it would not be practical or possible to identify every animal with cloned ancestors.

The NFU’s director of policy Martin Haworth told the Yorkshire Post: “The Efsa – the European Food Safety Authority – and the FSA have both confirmed that there is no health risk posed by the products of offspring from cloned animals. Cloning is currently not allowed in the EU, however, the progeny of animals cloned abroad may be imported.

“The Government’s position follows scientific advice and is in line with best regulation principles.

“The NFU believes that any developments in this area need to be informed by balanced, scientifically-based research and assessment which is why we say it is important to keep the door open on this type of technology.

“Public confidence is the NFU’s, and our farmer members’, absolute priority.”

Consumer group Which? claimed there were “scientific uncertainties” over the use of cloning in animal production for food.

During the consultation period on the issue, Which? said: “The proposed change...fails to recognise the limitations of the European Food Safety Authority advice, which although suggesting that there is no indication of any new safety issues for products of the descendents of clones from the available evidence, explicitly states that information on clone offspring is limited.”

Which? quoted EFSA opinion which said there were “uncertainties in the risk assessment”.